June 1, 2018

An Engineering for Professionals course exploring social justice and environmental engineering has won a Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Award, which recognizes technology-rich, engaging, and pedagogically sound courses.

Environmental Justice and Ethics Incorporated into Environmental Decision Making focuses on issues of environmental justice and ethics problems faced by engineers, planners, and manager. Offered through EP's Environmental Engineering, Science, and Management Programs, the course examines the foundations of the environmental justice movement, including current and emerging issues, and the application of environmental justice analysis to environmental policy and planning. According to Blackboard, the class exemplified excellence in four key areas: course design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support.

Historically, classes for environmental engineers have not included discussions of topics of race, class, or the interests of tribal nations the way we do in this course, said Kelly Tzoumis, the instructor. This class helps students become more sensitive to those issues and makes them aware of the tools available to them when taking these issues into account. I think it is really quite extraordinary.

The brainchild of Hedy Alavi, program chair for Engineering for Professional's Environmental Engineering, Science, and Management Programs, the course was created by Tzoumis and Olysha Magruder, instructional designer in EP's Center for Learning Design, a team of highly skilled professionals adept at designing instruction for different learning environments, including online, in person, or videoconferencing.

Tzoumis and Magruder worked together from concept to execution, creating an engaging course that uses music, contemporary and archival photos, and video and film footage, to bring the environmental social justice movement past and present alive for students.

Students in the course even have the opportunity to hear chants from a protest march by the black community in Warren County, North Carolina, which is considered a seminal event in the environmental justice movement, says Tzoumis. (In 1982, more than 500 protestors—most of them black—were arrested during a massive event protesting the dumping of PCB-contaminated soil in a landfill in their community. This protest garnered national attention and is widely considered the start of the modern environmental justice movement.) Our thought was that I cannot teach about race in an online course without showing some of the grassroots films and interviewing people about race and class. So that is what we did.

According to Magruder, the Center for Learning Design's protocol for creating courses almost ensures that each class will be exemplary.

As part of our process, we work with the instructors from the beginning, from the time they lay out their big-picture, course-learning objectives all the way to the smaller, more detailed pieces, she says. It's intense, one-on-one work, and results in a stronger product in the end. In the case of this course, though, I think the really compelling result came from a combination of a great idea for an atypical course, my team's strong design process, and very effective teamwork between Kelly and me.